US 7549527 B2
A sortation conveyor has a divert guide path which is configured to guide pushers to engage articles disposed on an endless conveying surface at an initial impact which does not result in an out of control situation even at high speeds. The divert guide path is disposed at a plurality of divert angles, and guides pushers to engage articles at a low initial contact divert angle and first lateral speed and to accelerate the articles to a final divert angle and second, higher, lateral speed. The pushers may be undergoing lateral acceleration at the time initial contact is made with the articles.
1. A sortation conveyor configured to selectively divert articles at one of a plurality of divert locations, said sortation conveyor comprising:
a. a plurality of switches associated with said plurality of divert locations;
b. a plurality of divert guide paths, one each disposed downstream of a respective one of said plurality of switches; and
c. each said divert guide path comprising an arcuate portion, said arcuate portion having at least one radius, said at least one radius being at least about 12 inches.
2. The sortation conveyor of
3. The sortation conveyor of
4. The sortation conveyor of
5. The sortation conveyor of
6. The sortation conveyor of
7. The sortation conveyor of any of
8. The sortation conveyor of any of
9. The sortation conveyor of any of
10. The sortation conveyor of any of
11. The sortation conveyor of any of
12. The sortation conveyor of any of
13. A sortation conveyor configured to selectively divert articles at a divert location, said sortation conveyor comprising:
a. a plurality of switches associated with said divert location, one of said switches comprising a last switch of said plurality of said switches; and
b. a divert guide path associated with said last switch, said divert guide path comprising an arcuate portion having at least one radius, said at least one radius being at least about 12 inches.
14. The sortation conveyor of
15. The sortation conveyor of
16. The sortation conveyor of
17. The sortation conveyor of
18. The sortation conveyor of
This application claims priority from U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/800,070, filed Mar. 12, 2004, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,516,835, titled Sortation Conveyor and from U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/454,078, filed Mar. 12, 2003, titled Sortation Conveyor, the disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference. This application also incorporates by reference the disclosures of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/409,749, filed Apr. 8, 2003, titled Sortation System Pusher, U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/445,974, filed Feb. 7, 2003, titled Slat Sortation Conveyor; and U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/428,366, filed Nov. 22, 2002, titled Pusher For Sortation System.
This invention relates to a sortation conveyor with pusher shoes which travel laterally (transverse to the longitudinal direction of travel of the sortation conveyor) to divert articles carried by the upper conveying surface of the sortation conveyor to diverts, and more particularly to a sortation conveyor in which the pushers are guided along divert guide paths so as to gently engage and gradually accelerate conveyed articles, such as cartons, laterally onto the diverts. The invention will be disclosed in connection with, but not limited to, a sortation system which includes a divert guide path guide track, with an arcuate section, configured to produce gentle initial contact between the pushers and conveyed articles followed by gradual acceleration.
It is believed that a sortation conveyor constructed in accordance with the teachings of the present invention may effectively be operated at high speeds, such as 650 feet per minute and higher, including for example, 700 feet per minute, 800 feet per minute, 1000 feet per minute and possibly even higher, having a variable throughput rate based on carton length and gaps, while maintaining control of the conveyed articles without cartons rotating substantially beyond the final divert angle, toppling or otherwise upsetting the articles. Sortation conveyors constructed in accordance with the teachings of the present invention may also be operated at lower speeds with improved control. Such improved control results in a higher percentage of articles being successfully diverted when utilizing the teachings of the present invention in comparison to when utilizing the teachings of the prior art.
The accompanying drawings incorporated in and forming a part of the specification illustrate several aspects of the present invention, and together with the description serve to explain the principles of the invention. In the drawings:
Reference will now be made in detail to an embodiment of the invention, an example of which is illustrated in the accompanying drawings.
Referring now to the drawings in detail, which depict an exemplary embodiment of the present invention, wherein like numerals indicate the same elements throughout the views,
As shown, divert guide path 6 is at least partially defined by divert guide track 10, which in the embodiment depicted includes arcuate section 14 and straight section 16. Divert guide track 10 is disposed downstream of the associated corresponding switch assembly 8, meaning that divert guide track 10 receives the guiding elements of the pushers diverted at switch assembly 8 and are therefore guided by divert guide track 10. The associated reentry 12 is downstream of divert guide track 10 and switch assembly 8. In the depicted embodiment, divert guide path 6 includes straight section 18 with arcuate section 14 disposed downstream thereof The present invention may be practiced without straight section 18 upstream of arcuate section 14.
In the depicted embodiment, arcuate section 14 forms 17° of a circular arc (from 3° to 20° relative to the longitudinal downstream direction of travel) with a 15 foot radius for the 20° divert 4, although the present invention is not limited to this dimension, nor to a constant radius arc, nor to the total angle of the arc, nor to the starting or ending angles of the arc. As is well known, the radius of a point on a non-constant radius arc is also referred to as the radius of curvature. For example, an arc with a 12 foot radius may be used with a 20° divert, or an arc with an 8 or 10 foot radius may be used with a 30° divert. A larger radius is generally better, but the larger the radius, the more space required for the sortation system. An arcuate section 14 having a radius ranging from 12 inches to 180 inches and up (space allowing) can provide improved control during carton divert, including, but not limited to, at speeds below the high speeds at which the present invention may be advantageously used. Arcuate section 14 may be alternatively configured to define a parabolic shape or a complex curve.
It is noted that, without departing from the teachings of this invention, the same result as a smooth arc may be obtained by a series of relatively short straight sections disposed end to end, non-colinear to each other, which it is noted is essentially the nature of any curved surface at its basic level, and such configuration is considered to be arcuate. Arcuate section 14 defines an arcuate divert guide path portion which distributes the force necessary to rotate and laterally accelerate articles toward divert 4 over a longitudinal and lateral distance instead of an abrupt initial force being applied to the article being diverted as the result of the pusher elements moving transversely at the final divert angle or a large divert angle when the article is initially contacted. Thus, a reduced force is applied to rotate and laterally accelerate each carton, applied over a longer time and distance.
In the embodiment depicted, divert guide path 6 comprises a plurality of divert angles. The divert angle at any point along a pusher's path is the angle of a line tangent to the pusher's path at that point measured relative to the longitudinal downstream direction. Thus, for any point along divert guide path 6, the divert angle is the angle of a line tangent to the divert guide path at that point measured relative to the longitudinal downstream direction. The final divert angle is the angle at which the pushers are traveling when articles are essentially discharged from the sortation conveyor (prior to entering reentry 12). A carton under control is discharged at the final divert angle. Usually the angle of a divert adjacent the divert location is the same as the final divert angle, but such is not a requirement of this invention. Divert 4 may be disposed at an angle different from the divert angle of section 16. Typical final divert angles include 20° and 30°, which are referred to as 20° and 30° diverts, respectively. Divert guide track 10 includes straight section 18, disposed at a constant divert angle of 3°. In the depicted embodiment, the divert angle of section 18 matches the divert angle of exit section 8 g, which will be described below. As shown, sections 14 and 18 are formed from a single piece, with the divert angle of entrance 14 a of section 14, in the depicted embodiment preferably matching the divert angle of upstream straight section 18. In the embodiment depicted, entrance 14 a is disposed at a 3° divert angle, matching the 3° divert angle of section 18. Exit end 14 b of section 14 preferably matches the divert angle of straight section 16, and in the embodiment depicted is disposed at a 20° divert angle matching the divert angle of straight section 16. Arcuate section 14 thus comprises a plurality of divert angles. Divert guide track 10, and divert guide path 6, comprises a plurality of divert angles: that of straight section 18, those of arcuate section 14 and that of straight section 16.
Straight section 16 defines the final divert angle and may be disposed at any suitable angle, such as 20° or 30°, as is well known, with exit end 14 b preferably matching the final divert angle. It is noted that entrance 16 a of section 16 is approximately aligned with the intersection 4 a of divert 4 with conveyor 2. Although not required, this configuration is believed preferable as it allows the divert's throat width to be maintained. It is preferred, but not required, that exit end 14 b of arcuate section 14 not extend past a line, perpendicular to section 16, passing through intersection 4 a.
By the time a pusher reaches reentry 12, the action of the pusher on the article is essentially complete, and the combination of the location and configuration of divert 4, the article's lateral speed, and the action of any pushers still acting on the article, will result in the article traveling onto divert 4 to complete the divert. Herein, reentry 12 is not considered part of the divert guide path.
Referring specifically to
The switching function of switch assembly 8 is complete at the downstream end of switch 8 b. By way of example, the divert function of a magnetic switch may be completed once the pusher has reached the point at which the pusher would continue to the divert guide path if the magnetic force of the magnetic switch on the pusher ceased.
Switch 8 b includes surface 8 c, the leading end of which, when switch 8 b is disposed in the divert position, is at a nearly 0° divert angle, measured relative to the longitudinal downstream direction, leading through a small radius to the other end of surface 8 c which is disposed at a 20° angle, also measured relative to the longitudinal downstream direction. When in the second position, the pusher pin is very quickly guided from 0° to 20° to begin the movement of selected pushers to the divert guide path. As is well known, switch 8 b must be capable of rotating into and out of the switching position between the guide pins of adjacent pushers, which, in the exemplary embodiment are located on 5inch centers. As is well known, this switching must occur in a very short time period.
Thus, switch assembly 8 is configured to divert pushers from a home path by switch 8 b. In doing so, the pushers travel at an initial divert angle, starting from 0° in the depicted embodiment, up to an intermediate divert angle, 20° in the depicted embodiment, and back down to an exit divert angle, 3° in the depicted embodiment. The intermediate angle may be any suitable angle which allows for proper diverting of the pushers. The exit divert angle may also be any suitable angle, such as approximately half of the intermediate angle, 10° or less, 5° or less, 3° or less, or zero or less. Thus, prior to contact between a pusher and an article being diverted, the pusher is accelerated to a first lateral speed, and then decelerated to a substantially lower second lateral speed. In the depicted embodiment, the second lateral speed matches the lateral speed of the pushers traveling along straight section 18, both being a 3° divert angle. In the embodiment depicted, the pushers are accelerated to a first lateral speed of 237 feet per minute at 20° and then decelerated to a second lateral speed of 34 feet per minute at 3°.
In the depicted embodiment, section 8 d begins at 20°, measured relative to the longitudinal downstream direction, preferably matching the exit angle of switch 8 b, and guides the pushers back to a reduced angle of 3°, measured relative to the longitudinal downstream direction. In this zone, section 8 d acts on the pin through surface 8 f, as the pusher's angle of travel is reduced. Alternatively, to avoid the wear on surface 8 f due to the pin travel adjacent thereto, a surface (not shown) may be included adjacent 8 f to engage the pusher cam or bearing on that side of section 8 d, instead of the pin or in addition to the pin. Switch assembly 8 includes surface 8 e, which eventually engages the pusher cam or bearing without binding the pin as the pusher travels downstream toward exit section 8 g.
In the depicted embodiment, exit section 8 g is straight and disposed at a 3° divert angle, matching the end of section 8 d and the entrance of section 18. If, as previously mentioned, arcuate section 14 is disposed immediately downstream of exit section 8 g without straight section 18, the divert angle of exit section 8 g would match, exactly or functionally approximate, the divert angle of entrance 14 a.
Up to this point, there preferably has been no contact with any articles on the conveying surface, with the pusher being primarily guided by its pin. As seen in
By the end of zone C, the pushers of the diverted set of pushers are close to but preferably do not contact the carton which is laterally aligned with the diverted set of pushers. Although it is possible that contact has occurred prior to zone D, the effectiveness of this invention might be limited if contact initiates within zone B or C.
In zone D, the initial contact between the diverted set of pushers and the carton being diverted is preferably made. Guide path Guidance of the pusher typically transitions from the pin to the cam by zone D, so that the cam, not the pin, transmits any force exerted by the pusher on the carton. Within this initial contact zone, the carton being diverted is initially contacted by at least one of the pushers of the diverted set of pushers. Usually the leading pusher is the initial pusher of the diverted set to contact the carton, as illustrated in
As previously mentioned, each carton is preferably positioned to the switch side of sortation conveyor 2, being single file and edge aligned such that the edge of the article is parallel to the longitudinal direction. Differently positioned cartons may limit the effectiveness: In the depicted embodiment, the system is designed for maximum effectiveness with articles being edge aligned and spaced a nominal distance of 3 inches from the edge of the pushers traveling along the home path.
There is an initial contact zone within which initial contacts between the set of diverted pushers and the articles being diverted are designed to occur. The divert guide path may be considered as beginning at the initial contact zone. Each divert guide path includes an initial contact zone portion which is disposed within the initial contact zone. The sortation conveyor is configured to position articles in a repeatable position, within a range, being edge aligned and spaced a nominal lateral distance from the pushers traveling along the home path. When articles are so positioned, the initial contact occurs within the initial contact zone. As a result of the variation in the lateral positioning of the articles, as well as the location along the edge of the carton at which initial contact is made, the initial contact zone extends laterally and longitudinally. It is noted that mispositioned articles, or articles without a straight side oriented toward the pushers, may be initially contacted by a diverted set of pushers outside of the initial contact zone. In the depicted embodiment, the contact zone falls within zone D, such as along straight section 18, with the divert angle of the pusher making initial contact being 3°. It is noted that within a linear portion of the divert guide path, the pushers have a constant lateral speed and thus no lateral acceleration.
The length and angle of zone D is calculated to produce initial engagement between the diverted pushers and the laterally aligned cartons being diverted within zone D. It is noted that the straight section of zone D may be omitted, with arcuate section 14 mating directly with exit section 8 g, with the divert angle at which the initial pusher to contact the carton is traveling when it initially contacts the carton, also referred to as the initial contact divert angle, being low enough that the impact between the pushers and the cartons does not result in an out of control situation.
The initial engagement should preferably be as gentle as possible, such that the force with which the carton is contacted when divert of the carton is initiated is sufficiently low enough to maintain control throughout the entire range of longitudinal speeds at which the sortation conveyor operates. Cartons under control during divert reliably and repeatably reach the divert, and the cartons are reliably not rotated substantially beyond the final divert angle, upset or toppled. Control in a sortation system, configured according to the teachings hereof to maintain control of articles being diverted at high speeds, is determined by the articles for which the sortation system is used. A sortation system does not lack control at operating speeds because cartons for which the system is not designed, or cartons for which the system is not typically used, cannot be diverted under control. For example, the inability of a sortation conveyor constructed in accordance with the present invention to control unique cartons which are different from the cartons for which the sortation conveyor was designed or is used, does not mean that the sortation conveyor does not maintain control of articles being diverted. The measure of control is that of the articles for which the system is designed or used.
When the initial contact occurs while pushers are traveling along an arcuate path, the pusher is being laterally accelerated upon initial contact. The acceleration rate or rates of at least the first pusher of the diverted set of pushers to contact the carton being diverted must be sufficiently low enough to maintain control throughout the entire range of longitudinal speeds at which the sortation conveyor functions. The present invention is configured to minimize the maximum impact speed of the pushers with the cartons, resulting in a low initial impact force.
Any carton being diverted must be laterally accelerated from its zero lateral speed to its final lateral speed. Each carton being diverted by the present invention is laterally accelerated, whether initial contact occurs in a linear portion of the divert guide path where the pushers have no lateral acceleration, such as that defined by straight section 18, or in an arcuate portion of the divert guide path where the pushers are being laterally accelerated, such as that defined by arcuate section 14. It is noted that “chatter”, minor fluctuations in lateral speed or lateral acceleration resulting from variation in longitudinal speed, tolerances and loading, are excluded from consideration.
Maintaining control, with the present sortation conveyor, of the cartons at high longitudinal speeds means that the carton being diverted is laterally accelerated at a rate or rates which are sufficiently low enough to maintain control throughout the entire range of longitudinal speeds at which the sortation conveyor functions.
For most cartons, initial contact by the first pusher to contact the carton will initiate angular rotation of the carton about a vertical axis, but at a minimum will result in transverse movement of at least a portion of the carton. In the present invention, this initial rotation will begin relatively slowly as a result of the initial contact divert angle of the pusher at the point of contact and the minimized initial impact speed and impact force.
The location of the vertical rotation axis typically varies from carton to carton, being dependant on many factors, and may not be constant through out divert for a particular carton. Following the initiation of rotation, continued engagement by the initial pusher will rotate the carton until another pusher initially contacts, and likely remains in contact with the carton. The first two pushers to contact the carton may not be adjacent, resulting in the carton bridging between the two pushers, with intermediate pushers not initially being in contact. It is noted that short cartons may not bridge. Oddly shaped cartons will also affect the initial contact of a diverted set and the occurrence of bridging.
Although bridging can occur even if the initial contact zone portion is linear and followed by a linear divert guide path, zone D is designed to generally have the initial contact and therefore initial impact of the pushers on the cartons occur within zone D, although some pushers may have initial contact within zone E or F, depending on bridging.
The divert angle of zone D functions to minimize lateral speed of pushers when they initially contact a carton. Even if bridging occurs, initial contact between a diverted set of pushers (the first contact by any of the diverted set) occurs at low lateral speed. The impact force results from the difference in lateral speed between the carton and the pushers: Since the cartons generally have no lateral speed prior to initiation of divert, the impact force generally is the result of only the lateral speed of the pusher.
Even if all of the diverted set of pushers in zone D are in engagement with the diverted carton by the time the leading pusher reaches the end of zone D, the diverted carton can bridge intermediate pushers within the diverted set in zone E with the arcuate divert guide path. Such bridging also occurs if the initial contact zone portion is arcuate.
In the embodiment depicted, the direction of travel of pushers traveling in zone E begins at 3° and ends at 20°. In zone E, the carton continues to be rotated, until the trailing edge of the carton reaches the end of zone E, at which location the rotation of the carton is completed, usually matching the final divert angle of straight section 16, which is 20° in the depicted embodiment. Arcuate section 14 causes the pushers to gradually, not necessarily constantly, rotate and laterally accelerate the cartons, producing low forces therebetween. The acceleration is preferably below 1 g, and in the depicted embodiment it is less than 0.3 g. Without being limited thereto, an arcuate section 14 that limits the lateral acceleration of pushers when in contact with cartons to less than 0.4 g will result in desirable improvement in control. By way of examples, an arcuate section with a 15 foot radius, having a final divert angle of 20°, operating at 650 feet per minute results in an average lateral acceleration of about 0.25 g, with a maximum lateral acceleration of about 0.277 g; an arcuate section with a 12 foot radius, having a final divert angle of 20°, operating at 650 feet per minute results in an average lateral acceleration of about 0.32 g, with a maximum lateral acceleration of about 0.347 g; an arcuate section with an 8 foot radius, having a final divert angle of 30°, operating at 650 feet per minute results in an average lateral acceleration of about 0.51 g, with a maximum lateral acceleration of about 0.62 g; an arcuate section with a 15 foot radius, having a final divert angle of 20°, operating at 630 feet per minute results in an average lateral acceleration of about 0.24 g, with a maximum lateral acceleration of about 0.26 g; an arcuate section with a 12 foot radius, having a final divert angle of 20°, operating at 630 feet per minute results in an average lateral acceleration of about 0.3 g, with a maximum lateral acceleration of about 0.33 g; and an arcuate section with a 8foot radius, having a final divert angle of 30°, operating at 630 feet per minute results in an average lateral acceleration of about 0.48 g, with a maximum lateral acceleration of about 0.58 g.
The curved divert guide path allows for better controlled carton handling. While a large radius for arcuate section 14 is desirable, to take the pushers to their maximum lateral speed as gradually as possible, improvements from use of the present invention may be seen at a radius as small as one foot providing improved control at lower speeds.
The divert guide path defined by section 18, having a low divert angle, and arcuate section 14, distributes the force necessary to laterally accelerate articles over a longitudinal and lateral distance, instead of a large initial, almost instantaneous force being applied to the article being diverted as the result of the pusher elements moving transversely at the final divert angle or a large divert angle when the article is initially contacted. The energy to laterally accelerate the cartons is initially imparted to the cartons at a low lateral speed, and is imparted thereafter at increasing lateral speeds until the lateral speed of the cartons match the final divert lateral speed.
Within zone E, as the diverted set of pushers travels through the arcuate portion of divert guide path 6, the lateral speed of the diverted carton is increased, being laterally accelerated as the pushers in contact with the carton are accelerated from a first speed at which the carton was initially contacted to a second speed at the end of zone E, at which the divert angle of the end 14 b of guide track 14 preferably is approximately tangent to the divert angle of straight section 16, which is the final divert angle at which the diverted carton is delivered to the divert. Within zone E, pushers which may be bridged therein, and thus not in contact with the carton, are also accelerated to the second speed at the end of zone E. Generally, all pushers of the diverted set within zone F will be in contact with the carton.
Throughout the length of the arcuate divert guide path defined by arcuate section 14, for a single radius arc, the lateral acceleration of pushers travelling therealong gradually increases until it instantaneously goes to zero when straight section 16 is entered at entrance 16 a. The lateral speed and lateral acceleration profiles of such travel are graphically illustrated in
It is noted that, with prior art sortation systems using straight divert guide tracks, at the point of initial contact, all of the pushers' lateral speed increase has already occurred, and the pushers contact the cartons while traveling at the highest lateral speeds shown in
Alternatively, different speed and acceleration profiles may be utilized for carton control. Arcuate section 14 may be configured as a non-constant, multiple radii complex curve. Arcuate section 14 may be configured such that the lateral speed versus time profile is an S-ramp as illustrated in
Although in the depicted embodiment straight section 18 is shown as having a 3° divert angle and arcuate section 14 is shown as having a first portion with 3° divert angle, the divert angle may range from less than 20° down to less than 3°.
The present invention has been described in terms of a divert guide path which does not produce the sudden lateral acceleration or sudden angular acceleration of conveyed articles, but instead produces motion void of sudden, significant lateral acceleration. The present invention allows higher speeds and higher throughput than previously attainable due to improved carton control.
Although disclosed with a single divert guide path for an associated divert, the teachings of the present invention may be utilized in a sortation conveyor in which there is a plurality of divert guide paths for an associated divert, with each divert guide path having an associated switch. In such a configuration, articles being diverted would not necessarily be rotated upon initial contact.
The teachings of the present invention may also be practiced with less than all divert locations of a sortation conveyor configured in accordance with the teachings hereof For example, articles diverted at a particular divert location of a sortation conveyor may typically be of a configuration such that they may be diverted under control using prior sortation conveyor configurations while other divert locations need the teachings of the present invention to divert other articles diverted thereat.
Although in the depicted embodiment, the cartons are aligned near the pusher home position, near one edge of the endless conveying surface and thus the conveyor frame, with a low divert angle straight section, or as discussed above, alternatively an arcuate section, immediately downstream of the switch, the present invention may be practiced with the low divert angle straight section and/or the arcuate section disposed close to the longitudinal midline of the sortation conveyor. In such an embodiment, the switch could discharge the diverter elements directly to follow a high direct angle path, such as 20° or 30°, with the path returning to a low divert angle near the midline, leading either to a low divert angle straight section or the arcuate section with a low divert angle entrance, with the cartons aligned near the midline. Such an embodiment could be constructed, for example, by shifting straight section 18 and arcuate section 14 to/toward the midline, with a straight section leading from the switch to a reducing divert angle curve to flow into shifted straight section 18.
Although disclosed in conjunction with pushers carried by an endless conveyor, the teachings of the present invention may be utilized in a sortation conveyor with any divert element capable of diverting articles. For example, a sortation conveyor in accordance with the teachings of the present invention may include a plurality of cross belt conveyors carried by an endless conveyor. Such a cross belt conveyor could have a guiding element configured similar to the pin and cam as described herein, or other configuration performing a similar function, connected directly or indirectly to a cross belt, guided by a guide path constructed in accordance with the teachings of this invention to cause the cross belts to move in the desired direction to divert articles disposed on the cross belt conveyors.
The foregoing description of a preferred embodiment of the invention has been presented for purposes of illustration and description. It is not intended to be exhaustive or to limit the invention to the precise form disclosed. Obvious modifications or variations are possible in light of the above teachings. The embodiment was chosen and described in order to best illustrate the principles of the invention and its practical application to thereby enable one of ordinary skill in the art to best utilize the invention in various embodiments and with various modifications as are suited to the particular use contemplated. It is intended that the scope of the invention be defined by the claims submitted herewith.